Our teacher introduced to me the items of her trade, telling me their Japanese names and writing them on the board at the front of the room. She drew the kanji for "one" (a single horizontal line) and "three" (three horizontal lines) on a piece of light-weight paper in beautiful orange ink and made some notes in pencil indicating things to think about. She then took my hand and shaped it to the brush. She stood behind me holding my hands, one to keep the paper in place and the other guiding the brush.
I stared at her orange example. I stared at the one we had created together. And then spent the next 45 minutes trying to create the most beautiful horizontal lines; to capture their subtle curve, the way they drifted up ever so slightly, the way they began effortlessly and stopped calmly. Once we have a copy that we think is good enough, we take it to her and have her look at it. When is it ever good enough?
I was happy to graduate to the hiragana for mountain (yama, やま) and then river (kawa, かわ). With these there was more tangible matter over which to stress. The horizontal lines were a few zen levels beyond me.
|Sensei's examples in orange, and my best attempts to copy in black|
(including one of many pages of lines)
|my stack of attempts|